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Myths About Sleep

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Outside the western world, some cultures sleep much differently than you.

You might think that everyone around the world sleeps on a plush, bouncy mattress. But, in reality, the U.S. and other wealthy western cultures are outliers when it comes to sleeping environments. Often due to socioeconomic factors, expensive mattresses aren’t used in many cultures. Others avoid using them because they take up lots of space in a room, they’re heavy and awkward to transport, and they’re often quite soft and don’t always provide ample back support. Find out how people in other cultures catch their zzz’s.

Bed Rolls or Futons: Many Japanese people prefer sleeping on what are called tatami mats. A tatami mat is commonly made of rice straw, wood chip boards, or polystyrene foam. Each is rectangular in shape, the width is always half the size of the length, and they come in various sizes. These gentle-yet-firm mats were traditionally used as special seating for nobles. To sleep on one, a person usually places a thin mattress on top that is called a futon (but is much more delicate than what Americans would call a “futon”).

Hammocks: These slings originated in Central and South America, where locals would tie them between trees, typically for “siestas” (naps). A hammock is typically made of cloth, twine, or rope and dips with flexibility as your body presses into it. Since hammocks swing above the ground, they are able to protect sleepers from ground-based ants, snakes and other critters that are common in tropical countries. Navy ships also popularized the hammock, because when a sailor sways back and forth in one, he or she is less likely to be tossed to the ground by the lurching boat. In south India, mothers often put their sleeping babies in indoor hammocks made of the light, breathable textile Sari and mount them so they hang from the ceiling in a bedroom.

Netted Beds: In areas where malaria is a threat (such as sub-Saharan African countries, like Ethiopia, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda) beds are often surrounded by nets. Malaria is a serious and sometimes life-threatening disease that’s usually transmitted when an infected mosquito bites a person—and it’s a lot harder to fight off mosquitoes while you sleep, since you generally can’t feel them biting you. So bed nets, which are often made of strong polyester, multi-filament fibers, attempt to reduce transmission of the disease by keeping mosquitoes at bay.